- Elliott Carter - Modern Renaissance Man [Recommended Recordings]
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Elliott Cook Carter
Recommended Recordings

"Thus, as a serious composer, one has to write for a kind of intelligent and knowledgeable listener one seldom comes across in any number"

Carter: Eight Compositions
(Charles Neidich, Fred Sherry, et al; Group for Contemporary Music )
With a full orchestra, Elliott Carter can spread his wings with clangorous grandness. When he goes with a smaller unit, as he does here, he can also do wonderful things--expanding on his tonal and timbral studies with telescoped intensity. This generous 78-minute collection begins in 1993 with Charles Neidich unfurling Gra for the solo clarinet, a piece that rivals anything on the extraordinary Giacinto Scelsi's Complete Works for the Clarinet for breadth and investigative power. Carter, an octogenarian when he wrote Gra, has, this collection shows, been on similar paths since at least 1948, when the CD's closer, Sonata for Violoncello and Piano, came to be. It shows off Carter's proclivity for middle-register grounding and fast outward motion, always tracking toward the unfamiliar and creating electric excitement. As a compendium of one of the greatest American composer's solo and chamber works, Eight Compositions can't be beat. (review by Andrew Bartlett)

Carter: Piano Concerto, Variations for Orchestra
(Barry Green, George Hambrecht, et al; Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra; Michael Gielen, conductor)
The music of Elliott Carter is one of the best connections that New Music has to Ives and his generation, including Cowell and Nancarrow. Carter, as catholic in his spools of influences as was Ives, wrote many acclaimed chamber works before his Piano Concerto, played here by Ursula Oppens. But the concerto takes the full weight of the chamber works and sends them loudly and intricately to a higher level, with a more developed hugeness. The Variations for Orchestra are likewise powerful illuminations of previous Carter works, but they too roll so many influences--many of them mainstream--into the mix that the breadth of music alone is staggering. Carter loves the long, large dips and dives, as well as the emergent loudness and lushness that an orchestra can heave much more strongly than a chamber group. But these pieces also show the flip side--that Carter is an astute composer in regard to granular details. (review by Andrew Bartlett)

Carter: The Four String Quartets
(Joel Krosnick, Robert Mann, et al; Juilliard String Quartet)
These quartets are Juilliard specialties, and anyone wanting to hear this music played with a near ideal combination of virtuosity and humanity need look no further. Carter's quartets are not for the musically faint of heart: they are uncompromisingly thorny, intricate pieces that require lots of intense, dedicated listening. Very few people doubt their seriousness--or even their claims to musical greatness--but just as few people enjoy listening to them. Perhaps this spectacular set will encourage the adventurous to give them a shot. They're worth the time. (review by David Hurwitz)

Carter: The Vocal Works (1975-1981)
(Eric Bartlett, Allen Blustine, et al; Speculum Musicae; conducted by Donald Palma, Robert Black, et al.)
This reading of In Sleep, In Thunder has tenor Jon Garrison singing Carter's musical setting of six Robert Lowell poems. Speculum Musicae grasps the piece's broad-based low-end sweeps expertly, flanging when Garrison's voice seems to unlock and bellow. The music shudders as the tenor considers Lowell's lines, emphasizing the conflicted poetics with interjections that interrupt each other shatteringly. While the Lowell poems allow Carter a fairly costly emotional investigation of personality and conflict, A Mirror on Which to Dwell peeks in on the development of sonic characters, again taken on with snappy know-it-allness of musical directions this side of World War II. The music chases itself, with woodwind blurts shadowing fast-moving string slashes and percussive piano washes, all occasionally wafting into dusty quiet--a recessive sonic area that works wonderfully in relation to Elizabeth Bishop's texts. Very little in these pieces resolves itself, and the music's sum effect is a multiplicity of tonal characters that create their own space, all the while in uneasy proximity to the other spaces. With the Three Poems of Robert Frost (composed in 1942) moving with Patrick Mason's baritone bellow and Syringa sung by mezzo-soprano Katherine Ciesinski (texts by John Ashberry), the palette of tonal ranges and dynamic changes is extremely wide on this set. (review by Andrew Bartlett)


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